St. Tropez's harbor
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St. Tropez Overview
St. Tropez conjures up images of the good life, beautiful people, yachts and paparazzi more than any other town on the Cote D'Azur. That luscious strip of seacoast that runs for about 70 miles from Italy's border was once a sleepy little fishing village offering little more than some sandal makers. The balmy Mediterranean sun was first adopted by the bohemian and beat writers and artists who migrated from Paris in the summers, which transformed in the 1960's because Brigitte Bardot put on a bikini and starred in a film ("And God Created Woman," directed by her then-husband Roger Vadim). She liked the area so much that she settled there, and the photographers followed. Then other celebrities showed up. And ... voila.
But what's with the name? Who has ever heard of a saint named Tropez? The story told is this: In 1055, one of Nero's centurions (a certain fellow named Torpes) refused to forsake his religion and was beheaded in Pisa. His body and head were placed in a boat, along with a dog and a rooster. The animals were supposed to eat his body and conceal the crime, but when the boat floated into the estuary of what was then called Athenopolis, the head and body were found intact. Apparently, the dog watched over it and protected it. The town name was changed to Ecclesia Sancti Torpetis, and after the French Revolution it was changed to Saint-Tropez.
Because of medieval Fido's loyalty, it's said that dogs in Saint-Tropez bear as much cachet today as any zillionaire movie star, and it's also contended that even if you aren't one of the beautiful people, you can get in anywhere, even into the packed and exclusive Caves du Roy night club, if you have a well-dressed dog. And indeed, as you amble the streets and squares around this charming little village, you see lots of well-behaved pooches with their owners, enjoying the Provencal sun.
The first things that you see when you arrive in the harbor, however, are the yachts at anchor or maneuvering to make it into the port. Some of those yachts rival -- in size and staffing -- all but the largest mass-market cruise ships. Okay -- accuse me of exaggerating -- but it's close enough to the truth. The yachts that do find berths in the old port harbor are smaller than the floating palaces at anchor, but they are also the ones that back their aft ends up to the quais so the occupants can lunch in full view of the walking, gawking masses. It's quite a show.
The town itself is a jumble of ochre-colored buildings surrounding the port, and narrow streets and alleys that climb away from it to the hills above. The Citadel, an ancient fortress on a rise, stands guard and is visible from the sea. Most of the town's industry depends on the boats and tourism, but what you have when you strip away the celebrities, the yachts and the paparazzi is a happy, comfortable place -- a small French town with history and a sense of place, a maritime sensibility, world-renowned sandals and the famous Tarte Tropezienne, and a cream-and-sponge cake developed by a relocated Pole from a recipe he got from his grandmother.
It's a glorious little city, the perfect embodiment of the French Riviera, smaller than Nice or Cannes -- even without a stellar beach in which about to brag. The best thing about St. Tropez is that you can make it your own, choose the way you want to see it -- debauched playground for spoiled rich folk or charming little Provencal town -- and enjoy it in your own way.
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Other Western Mediterranean Cruise Ports:
Barcelona • Cannes • Capri • Corsica (Ajaccio) • Elba • Florence • Fuerteventura • Genoa • Gibraltar • Ibiza • La Palma • Lanzarote • Las Palmas • Lisbon • Madeira (Funchal) • Malta • Marseille • Monaco • Naples • Nice • Palermo • Palma de Mallorca • Portofino • Rome (Civitavecchia) • Sardinia • Sete • Seville • Sorrento • St. Tropez • Taormina • Tenerife • Tunis (La Goulette) • Venice • Villefranche
French, but English, Italian and German are widely spoken in the tourist areas.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
Currency is the Euro. There are several banks and ATM's in the main area of town and along the sea wall adjacent to the yachts. There is a "Bureau de Change" (where you can exchange dollars for Euros and cash traveler's checks) at 1, rue Francois Sibill, which is also near the yacht harbor; they charge a commission for each transaction. Also, for up-to-the-minute conversion rates, check www.xe.com.
Where You're Docked
St. Tropez is a tender port. Tenders arrive in the center of town near the yachts, restaurants, shops and open-air vendors.
Hanging around the area where the tenders pull up is, unlike most tender docks, actually quite enjoyable. Right across the street is the new tourist office (Office de Tourism de Saint-Tropez, BP 219; Phone: 08-92-68-48-28), where you can pick up pamphlets or maps and ask the English-speaking representatives about bus and train schedules. Just a few feet away are street vendors selling paintings, jewelry and maritime baubles. And if nothing else, there are the too-too-too-fabulous yachts you can eyeball while you wait for the tender to bring you back to your ship.
If you aren't venturing out of St. Tropez, walking is your best transportation option. The town is a delight for strolling; hours can pass as you go from shop to shop, gawk at the yachts, sit in leafy squares, or sip a cafe au lait. There are a couple of beaches that are within (long) walking distance, or you can take a cab. There is a bus system, but most buses and their routes are not clearly marked; most go outside the city rather than serve a route within it. You can pick up a current schedule at the tourist office just opposite the tender dock (see above).
The area right around St. Tropez is fairly flat, so if you feel ambitious you can rent a bicycle for the day at Holiday Bikes (14, avenue du G.Leclerc, Phone: 04-94-97-09-39) for as low as 12 Euros ($15.25) or a 50cc Honda scooter for as low as 26 Euros ($33). If you're planning on traveling into the hills surrounding the town or as far away as the beaches at St. Maximes, a car rental might be the best option: Locazur is a local agency (9 ZA Saint-Claude Route des Plages, Phone: 04-94-97-57-85) or you can book in advance through Hertz or Avis.
Watch Out For
St. Tropez is actually a pretty clean, safe place. The biggest danger during the daytime is that you might get gouged by an unscrupulous cab driver. Make sure the meter is going, and the cab should be clearly marked with its number. If you have any doubts, wait for another.
Sandals "Tropeziennes," specifically from Atelier Rondini (16 Rue G. Clemenceau, Phone: 04-94-97-19-55) or K.Jacques (25 rue Allard Phone: 04-94-97-41-50). They may look like any other sandals (in the same way that a Prada skirt may look like any other skirt), but they aren't. They are handmade, prized and precious. Rondini been around since 1927 (the store is on its third generation of family artisans) and K.Jacques has been around since 1933, serving the "beautiful people" who arrive by jet or yacht, as well as locals.
Strolling: If ever there were a small town in which to wander and amble, this is the one. You can window shop, admire the gardens, gawk at the exquisite multimillion-dollar yachts, sip a cafe au lait or a fine red wine and then get up the next day to do it all again. Charming little streets and alleyways emerge onto breezy squares. On Tuesdays and Saturdays, there's an open market at Place des Lices; during the rest of the "season," from May through most of September, there are street musicians and vendors. You can also walk to one of the beaches near town, although they are not the nicest. La Plage Bouillabaisse is the closest, about a mile from the tender dock along the seafront road. There are a couple of nice restaurants for lunch, including Bouillabaisse for about 40 Euros ($51) and Golfe Azure for 30 Euros ($38) for the fixed-price menus. Or, you can climb the hill to The Citadel, an ancient fortress, which is now a maritime museum. Even if you don't go in, it's the best spot in town for photo opportunities.
Musee de l'Annonciade (Place Grammont, The Port, Phone: 04-94-17-84 -10): The building for this museum is a chapel dating back to the 17th century; it was converted in the 1950's into a museum and became the pride of all of St. Tropez. Through an aggressive acquisition program, the museum now features works from an array of French artists including Seurat, Dufy and Matisse. Closed Tuesdays; also closed between noon and 2 p.m. the remaining days. Adult admissio: 4.60 Euros ($6), child under 12: 2.30 Euros ($3).
Maison des Papillons (9 Rue Etienne Berny, Phone: 04-94-97-63-45): Just off the central Rue Clemenceau is this little house transformed into a butterfly museum. There are more than 4,500 species collected by the proprietor, Danny Lartigue, who coincidentally will guide you through the exhibit. Look for the very rare Black Apollon of Mercantour. Open every afternoon except Sundays, from 2:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. from April 1 to October 30. Cost: 3 Euros ($3.80), children under 8 free.
Been There, Done That
Baie de Pampelonne: This is where you want to go beaching, as this is what St. Tropez is all about. Located south of town, closer to the village of Ramatuelle, this is where the beautiful people "hang." There are several beaches and beach clubs here, some quite exclusive. The most popular is Tahiti Beach, named by Forbes Magazine as the number one topless beach in the world. Beware: You'll see little if any clothing so if you can't cope, don't go. It's only seven or so miles away, but transportation is difficult to find. You can take a cab or get a bus schedule from the tourist office right at the dock as you exit the tender, but most people recommend that this is the perfect excuse to rent a scooter for the day.
Boat Excursion Transports Maritimes Tropeziens (Old Port: Phone: 04-94-55-09-92): For just a few "sous," you can take a narrated one-hour boat excursion around the St. Tropez area. As you weave around the yachts at anchor you'll see the Citadel, the maritime cemetery, old St. Tropez (La Ponche) and the Bay of Canebiers, plus other sites as determined by the master (who will also point out the yachts and villas of celebrities). Cost: 8 Euros per adult ($10), half-price for children under 10 and free for kids under four.
Port-Grimaud: Known as the Venice of the Cote d'Azur, this little port town not far from St. Tropez is worth the visit. The actual town of Port-Grimaud is a 60-year-old French-style planned community, where Provencal houses are built on canals and yachts are moored adjacent. But walk a ways into the hills above this new town, and you will find a medieval village complete with a castle and fairy bridge. Really ... it's called Fairy Bridge! You can take a water shuttle from near the tender dock for about 11 Euros ($14), kids under 12 for 6 Euros ($7.65) and kids under four are free. Les Bateaux Verts (Phone: 04-94-49-29-39).
La Boite a Sardines (3 rue Saint Jean; Phone: 04-94-56-48-08): This cute little bistro located about halfway between the port area and the Citadel serves Marseillaise-style food, very Provencal in flavor and not terribly fussy with cream sauces. Fresh, regional food and fish are the specialties; there's a 15 Euro ($19) fixed-price lunch menu.
L'Olivier (Route des Carles; Phone: 04-94-55-82-55): This gorgeous restaurant is the eponymous paean to chef Olivier Streiff; we like to think so, anyway, although it could also mean "olive tree." Located in the toney, plush, upscale, small luxury hotel La Bastide de St. Tropez, in the hills above the gulf, this is where you'd go for a budget-busting, memorable taste of the finest Provencal cuisine. Specialties include duck fois gras on two cushions and a risotto of parmesan reggiano with vanilla oil. There's a fixed-price lunch menu of 50 Euros ($63), but you won't mind the price as you're sitting under the trees, around the pool or inside the glass-domed conservatory and realize that you, too, are one of the beautiful people.
Sous le Soleil (6, quai de l'epi, Nouveau Port; Phone: 04-94-97-53-90): Playing on the name of a popular and long-running television show in France, this little bistro is located in the new port, just to the right of where the tender drops you off. It serves simple grilled fare: grilled fish and meats and huge salads. Fixed-price lunch: 20 Euros ($25).
Le Cochon du Mer (1, quai de l'Epi, Phone: 04-94-97-46-00): Located just at the edge of the new port, not far from the tender dock, this seaside cafe specializes in Provencal and Marseillaise cooking: lots of simply prepared fresh seafood with Mediterranean ingredients. We just love the name of the place, which means "Pig of the Sea." A la carte pricing.
Inland Villages of Provence: Take a motorcoach tour to Ramatuelle, Gassin and Grimaud in the hills above the Bay of St. Tropez. These little towns are far from the glamour of the Riviera, populated by workers and craftspeople. It's a half-day tour, which will still leave plenty of time to wander the cobblestoned streets of St. Tropez while giving you a glimpse into real Provencal life in the region. Average price: $89 to $109.
Grimaud Village and Wine Tasting: Again, this tour takes you into the hills around St. Tropez to the Chateau St. Maur Winery and the village of Grimaud, once owned by the Grimaldi family of Monaco. You'll have a guided walking tour in Grimaud and be able to sample some regional varieties at the family-run Chateau. Average cost: $59 to $75.
Culinary Delights of St. Tropez: Anyone who's ever wanted a small course in French cooking will be delighted with this excursion. After a short walk to La Table du Marches restaurant, you'll meet your instructor and start preparing your own lunch. You'll learn how to select ingredients, prepare them and arrange them for presentation. You'll also get a wine tasting of regional varieties as you sample what you've prepared. Average cost: $175 - $200.
Frejus and the Romans: History buffs will enjoy this half-day tour to the small village of Frejus in the Maures Mountains. The village was founded by Julius Caesar in 49 B.C. In fact, it still has the amphitheater built in the first century. It once held 10,000 spectators and is still used today for concerts and bullfights. Average cost: $59 to $70.
Staying in Touch
Kreatik Cafe (19, avenue Gal Leclerc, Phone: 04-94-97-40-61) features a high-speed Internet center and Internet games. Open during the winter but closed on Monday during "low season" (November to April).
For More Information
On the Web: St. Tropez Tourist Office
Cruise Critic Message Boards: Mediterranean - Eastern & Western
Independent Traveler: Europe Exchange
--by San Diego-based Jana Jones, who is the creator and editor of lodging Web site Sleeping-Around.com, as well as one of Cruise Critic's stalwart ship reviewers.